Too many people in Thanet are suffering due to unsuitable or overcrowded housing, says Thanet council leader Rick Everitt.
The Newington ward councillor says although much work is being carried out to provide new homes for those on the council waiting list and to tackle the issue of homelessness, not enough focus has been on helping those whose living conditions are ‘intolerable.’
In his leader’s speech to full council, Cllr Everitt said: “The council recognised that it needs to do more in its Housing, Homelessness and Rough sleeper strategy earlier this year and I was reassured by the engagement it received from members.
“However, this shortfall has human consequences. As Newington ward councillor I represent an area where the effects on some people’s lives are apparent. A significant proportion of the casework I receive is from residents who are housed in intolerable conditions, but nonetheless cannot easily be rehoused because of the shortage of suitable available homes.
“These issues include overcrowding, disabled people stranded in their homes or unable to access bathroom facilities on an upper floor and others with a variety of mental and physical health conditions for whom their housing situation is seriously affecting their quality of life.
“Too often these conversations start, never mind end, with the belief that nothing can be done. It is a dispiriting experience for all concerned.
“This is not the result of council officers being unwilling to help, or an unfair rationing system. It is the consequence of long-term structural failure in housing supply at national level, dictated by national policy. Even the government’s new planning white paper focuses on helping people to buy, when the priority for Thanet is affordable rent.
“We should not confuse this with an argument about the desirability of individual housing sites in the local plan, which can be contentious. It is about the unacceptable conditions in which some of the people we represent already live in Thanet, whether as council tenants or in the private rented sector.
“These individual cases are, of course, confidential and don’t usually make headlines. They necessarily affect a minority of residents who may be concentrated in particular wards.
“There is a risk that in talking about numbers, reassuring ourselves that our policies are fair and that our officers are doing everything they can, we can fail to recognise the individual suffering that continues.
“We rightly prioritise tackling homelessness because rough sleeping is highly visible and temporary accommodation is expensive. But I do not believe that collectively we give the problem of residents who are unsuitably housed enough attention.
“That is why I am arguing that the return to direct management of our housing stock needs to mark a significant refocus, not just on providing all our tenants with a better service, but in putting housing at the heart of the council’s agenda.”
A cross party housing committee will now be created at Thanet council to look at ways of tackling the issue.
36 new homes to be bought or built
Next Thursday Cabinet members are also expected to approve an £8.822 million spend to provide 36 homes for people on the authority’s housing waiting list.
Some £4.5m has already been approved for Phase 4 of the council’s house provision programme with 30% of the budget made up of Right to buy receipts and the other 70% from the authority’s housing pot.
A report to Cabinet members says: “It is anticipated that the programme will deliver around 36 new homes for affordable rent for households in housing need on the council’s housing register. These additional homes will increase the number of new homes provided by the council as a result of its new build, acquisition and refurbishment programmes to a total of 191 since 2015.
“Over the past 5 years a total of 265 affordable homes have been provided by the council and its Housing Association partners. The Strategic Housing Market Assessment completed in 2016 identified a need for 397 affordable homes per year, however, it is anticipated that this figure could rise significantly.
“New initiatives to increase the supply of new affordable homes are needed and this is recognised in the new Housing, Homelessness and Rough Sleeper strategy, agreed by the council earlier this year.”
There has been a rapid growth in homelessness in Thanet with 79 households currently living in temporary accommodation provided by the council.
The Phase 4 programme aims to buy up to 16 two, three or four bedroom by December 2020 and March 2021. A further 10 one, two, or three bedroom homes will be built on TDC land during 2022 and around 10 one, two, or three bedroom homes will be built by March 2023.